Beef Up Your Benchmarking Surveys

By: Michael Hayes

Four tips for expanding your research portfolio.

Surveys are a cost-effective way for associations to gather information about their members. Today, inexpensive tools can make it easy to measure attitudes on hot topics and receive timely feedback. But survey research shouldn't be limited to issue-driven and opinion-based polling.

Quantitative benchmarking surveys about conditions in an association's industry allow members to accurately gauge the health of their market and make informed strategic decisions. And intelligence gathered from a compensation and benefits study, financial-ratio report, or industry sales report can become a source of competitive advantage and an essential member benefit for years to come.

Here are four tips for expanding your research portfolio:

1. Involve members. Compared to opinion-based surveys, detailed benchmarking studies are more expensive and require more time to complete. If members are expected to spend more of their time completing the survey and potentially fund the research, it's important that they are involved in the design process. Associations should have a standing market research committee that periodically reviews all research projects. This helps ensure that reports never get stale and continue to capture valuable information members are looking for. It's also an excellent way to get your more outspoken and vocal members actively involved in your association.

2. Use the right tools. It is important to consider what level of expertise is required to conduct quantitative surveys. Surveys that collect detailed financial information require more data analysis and validation than opinion surveys and should be done by in-house research staff or a survey research firm. Inexpensive off-the-shelf survey tools may not provide the design flexibility and analytic capability to process thousands of data points in a benchmarking study. Technology such as built-in validation checks can vastly improve accuracy by providing real-time user feedback and reduce the time spent on the survey for everyone involved.

3. Consider legal issues. Benchmarking surveys that collect respondents' financial data present legal concerns that are not found in opinion-based surveys. Associations must protect the confidentiality of individual participant data. They should consult with their legal counsel and survey-design team to ensure that proper safeguards are in place.

4. Use, distribute, and profit from the results. Industry sales and compensation figures can be used in press releases and membership marketing material to support the association's message about the health of the industry. Ask yourself: Who other than my members might be interested in the results? Besides sharing some basic top-level results for free, associations can use these reports as an opportunity to generate revenue. Nonparticipants, industry consultants, affiliate companies, and investment firms may all be willing to pay to receive this valuable information.

Michael Hayes is senior manager of Veris Consulting. Email: [email protected]